Laura Carmichael, Elizabeth McGovern and Michelle Dockery star in Downton Abbey.

10 of the loveliest period dramas to escape into now

Posted by for Life

There’s nothing like snuggling up with a comforting period drama and returning to a simpler time, and we could all do with some escapism right now. 

Ah, period dramas. The on-screen equivalent of a cup of tea and a biscuit: warm, comforting and familiar. Unlike the contemporary shows that’ll jolt you back to reality by some mention of, say, a maniacal president or a global pandemic. Instead, they give you permission to float away blissfully on a bed of petticoats and cosily predictable plot twists.

Some of us watch them because they tell classic, age-old stories we know and love; some of us watch them simply because we appreciate a hard-working costume department. Whatever your flavour, while away the hours with 10 of our favourite period drama boxsets.

  • Outlander

    Caitriona Balfe as Claire Fraser in Outlander.
    Outlander season 6: Caitriona Balfe introduces new characters.

    A time-travelling epic, this internationally beloved show sees Caitriona Balfe play a woman transported back to war-torn 1740s Scotland, where danger, drama and plenty of Highland flings ensue. Adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling historical novels, it’s pacey, gripping and (most crucially right now) long – five weighty seasons and counting.

    Where to watch: Amazon Prime

  • Call The Midwife

    Call The Midwife is set in 1950s London.

    Following a group of charismatic midwives working in post-war London, Call The Midwife is nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster – you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and before you know it five hours will have flown past. Though it doesn’t shy away from hard-hitting topics throughout all nine seasons, touching on everything from racism to alcohol addiction, ultimately it’s a show about hope and sisterhood guaranteed to leave you with a warm glow.

    Where to watch: BBC iPlayer

  • Downton Abbey

    Downton Abbey 2
    Is a second Downton Abbey film really what the world needs right now?

    We could happily inhabit the world of the aristocratic Crawley family and their household staff for days on end; one filled with sumptuous costumes, dashing suitors and plenty of upstairs-downstairs intrigue. Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess is a highlight with her sharp tongue and pithy remarks – most often concluded with the muttered words “dreadful woman”. Lose yourself in all six lavish seasons then top it off with the 2019 film, in which the Crawleys welcome royalty to Downton.

    Where to watch: Now TV

  • Wolf Hall

    Period dramas: delve into the chaotic Tudor court with Wolf Hall.

    This genius adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s genre-defining novels is seriously meaty – this is not something you can watch with one eye on your Instagram feed. With the conclusion to her trilogy, The Mirror & The Light, now out in hardback, it’s the perfect time to delve into the complex but brilliantly told tale of Thomas Cromwell as he navigates King Henry VIII’s chaotic court. Look out for Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn – possibly our favourite ever interpretation of the Tudor queen who changed the course of British history.

    Where to watch: iTunes 

  • Poldark

    Set on the Cornish coast, Poldark remains a visually rich treat.

    Now synonymous with shining abs and flowing, windswept hair, Aidan Turner’s Poldark caused quite the stir when he first galloped onto BBC One back in 2015. Based on novels by Winston Graham, the plot follows an ex-soldier as he returns to Cornwall after three years fighting in the American War of Independence, where he finds his estate in ruins and his childhood sweetheart shacked up with his cousin. Expect sweeping shots of beautiful, rugged coastline and plenty of brooding atop Cornish clifftops – a feast for the eyes indeed.

    Where to watch: Netflix

  • The Tudors

    Period dramas: The Tudors is bodice-ripping entertainment at its finest.

    Another day, another period drama about the portly, brash Tudor king we all studied in school. Except, in The Tudors, Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ Henry VIII is handsome, slim and softly spoken. Yes, he is fond of the odd beheading, but he is also shown to be tender, thoughtful and highly prone to falling head-over-heels in love. At times melodramatic and with more gratuitous sex scenes than the entire run of Game Of Thrones, The Tudors nevertheless remains classic bodice-ripping entertainment you can really get hooked on.

    Where to watch: Amazon Prime

  • Anne With An E

    Period dramas: The latest adaptation of 1908 novel Anne Of Green Gables, Netflix's Anne With An E.

    This is the latest reworking of the classic coming-of-age story by Lucy Maud Montgomery centring on Anne Shirley, aka Anne of Green Gables, an orphaned outsider determined to find her place in the world. We defy you to spend one episode with this sharp, pint-sized and heavily freckled feminist who insists “girls can do anything a boy can do and more” and not fall completely in love.

    Where to watch: Netflix

  • The Crown

    Period dramas: There's a reason everyone is obsessed with The Crown.

    Recent history, but history nonetheless, The Crown is an eye-opening and lush depiction of Queen Elizabeth II’s life and times. Played expertly first by Claire Foy and then by Olivia Colman, our monarch is revealed to us through gripping (if heavily dramatised) plotlines and major real-life events replicated with incredible precision. You’ve got just enough time to catch up on the first three seasons before the final one arrives – whip up some cucumber sandwiches and settle in.

    Where to watch: Netflix

  • Pride And Prejudice

    Period dramas: The 1995 adaptation of Pride And Prejudice is timeless.

    Widely considered the best series adaptation of Jane Austen’s seminal classic, this 1995 six-parter from the BBC is a masterclass in perfect period drama. The brilliant cast, which includes a young Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, help Austen’s subtle wit and sharp social commentary on women and marriage truly shine – and that wet shirt scene remains iconic.

    Where to watch: Netflix

  • Gentleman Jack

    Period dramas: Suranne Jones shines in Gentleman Jack.

    If you love both Suranne Jones and TV that puts whipsmart, empowered women front and centre, prepare to be obsessed with Gentleman Jack. It tells the true story of the “first modern lesbian” Anne Lister, a wealthy Yorkshire landowner in the 1800s who kept detailed diaries on everything from her illicit sexual affairs to the state of her toenails. Quirky, rousing and made all the funnier by Jones’ Fleabag-esque looks to camera.

    Where to watch: BBC iPlayer

    Images: BBC, Netflix, Showtime, Starz, ITV

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Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander is Stylist magazine’s features editor.

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